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04/19/2007


Frank Bidart's 'Metaphysical Dog': Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

For nearly half a century, Frank Bidart has been obsessed by a single theme. In this brilliant new collection, he calls it “hunger for the absolute”: our seemingly inescapable need for purity and perfection, for some significance that transcends the organic. Whether this hunger leads to philosophy or religion, politics or love or art, it both instills our lives with meaning and makes them intolerable.

Bidart bookFor much of his career, Bidart has explored this theme through long poems written in various personae. (One of these poems, “Herbert White,” was recently made into a film by James Franco, who has championed Bidart’s work.) In Metaphysical Dog, he attempts an accounting of how hunger for the absolute has been the fuel of his own life.

Almost without exception he sees it as a destructive force, beginning with the early “God-hunger” that made him eager to join the ranks of “priests, addicted to // unanswerable but necessary questions, / also everywhere addicted to cruel answers.” As he has in earlier poems, Bidart unequivocally rejects the Catholicism of his youth and the loathing of sex and the body it demanded, calling it an “ecstasy...in which you call the God who made / what must be obliterated in you love.”

But he’s equally suspicious of secular regimes of purity. Several poems in this collection address ideas of America that have long urgently competed in our culture. One of these ideas is of the diverse, tolerant, impure nation celebrated in the poems of Walt Whitman. Against that vision Bidart sets the idea of a “real” or “pure” America, an idea that has been invoked with renewed force in some quarters since the election of an African-American president. In the poem “Inauguration Day,” Bidart presents an ominous image that might have been lifted from the evening news:   

                        staring out across America I see since
                        Lincoln gunmen
                        nursing fantasies of purity betrayed,
                        dreaming to restore
                        the glories of their blood and state

No other poet sounds like Bidart, and even in these few lines you can hear the muscular physicality of his language, the way the sentence twists around the line breaks, never quite as expected. Bidart’s lines are very often beautiful, but they seldom move with conventional grace.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Poet Rips Michele Bachmann in Amazing Spoken Word Slam: VIDEO

Demulder

Sierra DeMulder, finalist in the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam, performs during the one minute round in WOWPS prelims in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a searing blast of Michele Bachmann.

I transcribed it so you can follow along. You'll probably be watching more than once.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Your husband owns a clinic that offers to cure homosexuality for up to $10,000 a year. So when you, Representative Bachmann, refused to acknowledge the bullying of gay students in your district, this must have been strictly business.

When another gay teenager commits suicide in Minnesota, you consider this free advertising. You buy a new necklace for every hanging, a bottle of Merlot for each overdose, your husband sends 'thank you' cards to their funeral, hand-signed, all referrals welcomed.

How could we expect you to take a stand against bullying when it helps pay for your mortgage, when it puts food in your children's belly? One day, your youngest daughter will ask you why her school supplies feel like they belong to someone else, her pencils write names that are not hers, Samantha, Nick, Aaron, Kevin. Tell her the truth Michele, that blood money is not a metaphor, that your wallet is heavy with those who have untied themselves. Tell your daughter that God is the bully with the biggest fist and you can only hope that he is on your side!

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Colbert Was Not Impressed by Gay Poet Richard Blanco: VIDEO

Colbert

Stephen Colbert took apart Obama's inauguration last night, "yawning to life" for poet Richard Blanco.

Said an exasperated Colbert:

Would it kill you to throw a rhyme in there? It's a poem. It's not that hard. Here--

There once was a man named Barack
Whose reelection came as a shock
He raised taxes I pay, and then turned marriage gay..
And now he's coming after your glock.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Poet Richard Blanco Talks About His Experience on the Podium, Reacts to Obama's Call for Gay Rights: VIDEO

Obrien_blanco

Gay poet Richard Blanco, who read his work "One Today" at the Obama inauguration, talked to Soledad O'Brien on CNN's Starting Point about how it felt to be part of the event, how he prepared for it, and how he felt about Obama's call for gay rights.

Blanco also appeared on AC360 last night to speak with Anderson Cooper about it.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Ac360_blanco

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Gay Poet Richard Blanco Reads His Inaugural Poem 'One Today': VIDEO

 

Inaug_blanco

Gay poet Richard Blanco took the podium at Obama's inauguration earlier today to read a poem composed specifically for the occasion, entitled "One Today

Watch and read the text of the poem, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Obama Selects Gay Latino Poet Richard Blanco to Read at Inauguration Ceremony: VIDEO

Blanco

President Obama has chosen Richard Blanco to write and recite an original poem at his inauguration later this month, the NYT reports:

Like Mr. Obama, who chronicled his multicultural upbringing in a best-selling autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Mr. Blanco has been on a quest for personal identity through the written word. He said his affinity for Mr. Obama springs from his own feeling of straddling different worlds; he is Latino and gay (and worked as a civil engineer while pursuing poetry). His poems are laden with longing for the sights and smells of the land his parents left behind.

Now Mr. Obama is about to pluck Mr. Blanco out of the relatively obscure and quiet world of poetry and put him on display before the entire world. On Wednesday the president's inaugural planners will announce that Mr. Blanco is to be the 2013 inaugural poet, joining the ranks of notables like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Blanco lives in Maine with his partner. He told the paper:

"Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background. There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him."

Said Obama of Blanco, in a press release from the White House:

"I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural," President Obama said today. His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.”

More info from the White House:

Born in Spain to Cuban exiles, Blanco’s parents emigrated to New York City days after his birth and eventually settled in Miami. Blanco began his career as a consultant engineer. Writing about abstract concepts and preparing arguments on behalf of his clients helped Blanco think about the "engineering” of language, and he left his job in 1999 for the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University until 2001. Thereafter he served as instructor at various universities throughout the country, including American and Georgetown universities, all the while maintaining his career in consulting engineer.
 
Blanco's career as an English-language Latino poet gained momentum when his first collection, City of a Hundred Fires, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh. Blanco's second book of poetry, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award.  His third collection, Looking for The Gulf Motel, was published in 2012.

Added Blanco: "I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude. In many ways, this is the very 'stuff' of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story—America’s story, really.  I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry."

Watch Blanco give a reading in 2012 at NYC's Bryant Park, AFTER THE JUMP...

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